NACDL’s Response to Ruling (Mostly) Denying Access to Illinois Lineup Data

Following yesterday’s ruling in Cook County, NACDL has offered its official response, which reads in part:

“The Court has dealt a blow to the public today. We will appeal the decision and continue to demand that the Chicago Police turn over all of the data and case files behind a report that contradicts vast amounts of research on lineup procedures,” said Scott Ehlers, state legislative director of NACDL, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We can’t conduct a thorough, scientific review of this information without access to all of the data used to reach the conclusions set forth in this report.”

The Roderick MacArthur Justice Center, of Northwestern University, had originally requested the data, but was met with silence.  From its director:

“The fact that this data will continue to remain a secret is shameful,” said Locke Bowman, legal director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center. “We will continue to do everything in our power to get access to this information.”

The court did order disclosure of a limited set of materials relating only to closed cases that were included in the study, but undermining any value to that ruling is the fact that the photos used in the arrays will be redacted, rendering it impossible to assess the reliability of the lineups themselves, notwithstanding the police procedures by which they were administered.

The results of the infamous Illinois/Mecklenburg “study” sent shockwaves through the community of social scientists who had studied the same questions for decades, primarily because the results were touted as showing that the status quo procedures — i.e., the procedures that led to the majority of the 54 documented wrongful convictions in Illinois alone — were actually superior, in direct contradiction to all other research on the topic.  Foul play was suspected, and since then the police department and its then-General Counsel Sheri Mecklenburg have refused to turn over the data and subject the study to actual peer review, as is required of actual scientific studies.

Leading eyewitness researcher Dr. Nancy Steblay also weighed in on the outcome:

“Legal evidence and public policy should be based on sound science. The Illinois Study has again failed to meet standards for scientific credibility,” said Nancy Steblay, expert of eyewitness identification procedures and professor at Augsburg College. “A Blue-Ribbon Panel of eminent scientists previously judged the study’s method to be fatally flawed and thereby incapable of answering its research question. Now the Chicago Police Department is unwilling to share the complete data necessary for evaluation of the study’s purported findings. It is time to set aside the Illinois study and to firmly reject the unsupported claims of its proponents.

Locke Bowman, legal director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center, summed it up succinctly:

Wrongful convictions in Illinois have been far too commonplace.  If the data supports the report’s findings that traditional lineups work better than reform methods, the Chicago Police have nothing to hide. But if the data doesn’t support those findings, it’s time for the Chicago Police Department and departments around the state to change the way they handle eyewitness identifications.

The Cook County judge’s decision is here (PDF).


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